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Social Media and Participatory Democracy

Public Notice and the World Wide Web

Shannon Martin E.

Public notices are usually provided in the form of a document when something is about to be done or recently has been done by government. For about two hundred years these notices have often taken the form of legal notices placed as classified ads in newspapers.
With the onset of social media, government as well as personal information can be accessed at a push of a button for all to see. This book addresses the kinds of changes that public notice and published public records have experienced as governments around the world try to accommodate the digital formats for information and World Wide Web publishing, as well as presenting historical and legal underpinnings for the broader claim of a public requirement to be informed about government.
While there is concern that government information on the web will fall pray to pranks and misuse, the author argues that it is possible to reduce this risk by looking carefully at the intent of public notice and the history of democratic evolution. The book concludes with recommendations for smoothing the transition from a paper-based world of records to an environment of speed and virtual portability.

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Preface

Extract

Representative democracies depend on informed constituents to guide and oversee the officers who make the day-to-day decisions of government work. Voters, in turn, rely on information provided to them from those public of- ficeholders in order to understand what needs to be done and which resources are available to accomplish the work. It is, at its most elegant, a feedback loop that works only as well as all the individual parts allow. Strong communica- tion networks are one element of this loop that can make or break the success of the structure. These communication networks not only help keep constituents informed about working governments’ activities but also allow voters to observe how well public officeholders are working on behalf of the electorate. Greek city- states required public reports, and there were opportunities for citizens to ask officials during public meetings to justify what was done during their terms in office. As governments have grown larger and serve larger populations, additional systems have been put in place to provide similar opportunities for reporting. Modern representative democracies usually include an array of communi- cation platforms, including speeches that may be broadcast over the air, hand- bills posted in public gathering places, advertisements and meeting reports in viii social media and participatory democracy newspapers, bulletin boards on social networking sites, government-hosted webpages, and email listservs. Though the range of communication vehicles is now as wide as it has ever been, the contents of the government messages are usually quite specific and guided by...

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